Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sunflower League Buzz

SM East's proposed new helmet
featuring a chrome facemask.
Uniform Modifications

The uniform craze was not limited to the collegiate game. A handful of Sunflower League teams upgraded to new uniforms last fall, and several more are expected to follow suit this season.

***Lawrence Free State is adding a green matte helmet to the fold, while SM East is toying with the idea of using a chrome facemask.

***SM Northwest has plans to wear gray pants, which is probably a first in program history for the black and orange. I thought they got it right last season moving from a sort of Peterbilt-ish helmet decal to more of a traditional Cougar.

***Olathe Northwest is modifying their uniforms to match those worn by the University of Kentucky football team. This might be the first time in history any football program at any level has done anything to emulate Kentucky football. Perhaps it's an homage to Olathe Northwest alum and Kentucky basketball player Willie Cauley-Stein. No word yet on if the uniform package will include an aqua paisley alternate.

Recruiting News and Other Notes

***Since the last update, several Sunflower League players have added new FBS offers. Olathe North's Marcel Spears now lists offers from Iowa State and Wyoming, in addition to Idado. Meanwhile, teammate Josh Moore added offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Olathe North's Marcel Spears recently
took home MVP honors at the National
Underclassmen Football Combine. FBS
coaches are taking notice.

***Free State offensive tackle Scott Frantz recently listed his top three college choices as Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. Frantz has received over nine FBS offers in total. He is targeting a June commitment date.

***Bishop Miege quarterback Ryan Willis (6-4, 200), ranked by as the nation's 18th best pro-style quarterback, recently committed to Kansas. For those who don't know, Willis began his high school career at Olathe East. He transferred to Miege for his junior season of football, to fill in at the starting quarterback position left by Montell Cozart (now the starting quarterback at Kansas) who had just graduated. Willis never saw varsity reps during his underclassman years with Olathe East, playing behind John Blazevic.

***Now that all players from the class of 2013 have graduated, we know exactly who signed to play at the FBS level. They are as follows: Olathe South's Braden Smith signed with Auburn; Olathe North's Jimmie Swain signed with Oregon; Free State's Joe Dineen signed with Kansas; Free State's Fred Wyatt signed with Northwestern; SM West's Justin Hobbs signed with Tulsa; SM West's Austin Chambers signed with BYU; and last, but certainly not least, SM West's Andre Maloney had committed to Kansas but never signed due to his untimely passing. SM South's Ra'Keim Abdul obtained an offer from New Mexico, but elected to attend Butler County Community College instead. The class of 2013 will certainly go down as one of the most talented in Sunflower League history.

***Turf has finally reached all corners of the Sunflower League (sentimental sigh). Turf installation took place at CBAC and ODAC earlier this spring, meaning all seven football stadiums in the Sunflower League now have synthetic turf surfaces.

Sunflower League Champion Determination

The new, week one open schedule policy adopted by the Sunflower League means the league champion(s) will be decided differently from prior years. From now on, the five guaranteed games of interleague play (weeks two through six for every team in the league) plus the first Sunflower League foe each team plays in districts will determine the champion, on the basis of winning percentage. In the case ONE or more teams do not play a Sunflower League opponent in districts, then the league champion will be determined on the basis of the aforementioned five Sunflower League games played by each team.

This second addendum means for 2014 and 2015 the Sunflower League champion will be determined on a winning percentage basis based on each team's record from week two through week six, since several league team DO NOT play Sunflower League opponents in districts.

SM East head coach Dustin Delaney is
a champion for the platooning sytem.
Photo by
Platooning vs. Traditional

It's going to be interesting seeing how the SM East football program progresses under head coach Dustin Delaney -- and more importantly, how well his system of platooning works over the next couple years.

For those who aren't familiar with the lingo, platooning is where your players play exclusively on either offense or defense. Typically, no player starts on offense and defense, although a player may get reps in both. In essence, this means you have 22 different starting football players at any given time. This allows players to develop more specifically at one position during the course of their high school career, instead of having to learn both an offensive and defensive position. It also allows your players to stay more fresh during the course of a game.

The rebuttal to platooning you hear most often from coaches is they don't have 22 players worthy of being starters. Or that you want your best players on the field as much as possible, so playing a great athlete on just offense or just defense limits their potential contributions.

By and large, the Sunflower League is not a platooning league. Although, there have been some exceptions. Kevin Kopecky instituted a platooning system at Leavenworth when he took over in 2010, and it seemed to work well as the program finally gained some traction. New head coach Mark Littrell, a Sunflower League veteran, went back to a more traditional non-platooning system last summer after taking the head coaching gig once Kopecky departed Leavenworth.

Then there's obviously Delaney and SM East, the poster children for platooning. In year one in the system the Lancers went 11-2 and advanced to their first state title in school history. What's more, by having 22 starters a season ago, the program is returning 16 starters after only losing six starters to graduation. In a more traditionally system, it's uncommon to return more than 10 starters in any given season.

But back to the original point: keep an eye on how the platooning system works out for SM East in the seasons to come. I felt one obvious advantage the Lancers seemed to have on everyone last fall was that they appeared as full of energy in the fourth quarters of games as they did in the first quarters. Many of their games were actually won in the fourth quarter on late scores -- which would support the obvious conclusions about the benefits of platooning.

Strength of Schedule

The 2014 season schedules are out (available under the 'SCHEDULES' tab above) and there are a few interesting takeaways. Some teams were quite fortuitous with their draws, and others not so much.

Smiled Upon

***SM East was awarded (on paper) probably the easiest schedule of anybody. Only two of their nine opponents had winning records last fall, and the two that did (Gardner-Edgerton and Free State) lost the bulk of their star players to graduation. The cherry on top for the Lancers is a district which includes Harmon, SM North and Wyandotte.

***Leavenworth has some challenging games (namely SM East and Olathe North in weeks five and six) but overall the move to 5A has set them up to be successful. They host Great Bend in week one (a team that went 4-5 and 0-3 in districts a season ago), and close out the season against Schlagel, Washington and Lansing, three teams that combined to go 12-15 last year against middling KCK competition. Take care of business like they should, and the Pioneers will have no problem winning four or five games this fall.

Spit Upon

***Olathe South is fortunate Randy Dreiling up and left Hutchinson this offseason, or else their schedule would be that much more difficult. After a trip to face the Salthawks in week one, the Falcons square off with Olathe East and Olathe North in back-to-back weeks. They also face SM West and Lawrence, before entering a district line-up that includes visits to Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley, then a home game against Gardner-Edgerton.

***Free State has a schedule nobody in the league will envy. After starting on the road at SM West, they play at home against Olathe North, then play at crosstown rival Lawrence in week three. They face SM East in early October, which is a prelude to a unique travel schedule for districts. After playing Washburn Rural at home, they'll travel to play road games at Manahattan (81 miles) and Topeka (23) miles in weeks eight and nine. The Firebirds haven't faced Topeka or Washburn Rural since 2004, and they've never faced Manhattan.

Lawrence's Brad Strauss. LJWorld.
Random List: Eli's Top Five Most Impressive Single Season Stats the Past 15 Seasons

5. Brad Strauss, Lawrence,
Stat: 3,021 yards of total offense in 2012

Somebody will break this record, it's only a matter of time. But for now it deserves a pat on the rear. A player would break this record by recording 233 yards of total offense per game, for 13 games (Strauss hit this total in just 11 games). Based on what we've seen in the rushing yards category, I think it's going to be hard for a running back to ever surpass the 3,000-yard rushing mark in this challenging of a league. However, a dynamic quarterback, like Strauss, in a spread offense could surpass Strauss' mark. How long will it last? Who knows.

4. Justin Dyer, Olathe South
Stat: 173 tackles in 1999

The closest anybody has come to breaking Dyer's tackle total was in 2011, when Olathe South's Remington Whitley notched 162 tackles in 13 games. Dyer notched 10 more in just 12 games, making his feat more impressive. Prior to 2002, the maximum amount of games a team could play in a season was 12. An extra playoff game was added in 2002, hence a team now plays 13 games if they make it to the state title. A player would have to average 13.3 tackles per game, over the course of 13 games, to break Dyer's record.

3. Anthony Parks, Olathe East
 Stat: 11 interceptions in 2002

This number jumps out to me as absurd. I think two things make this record hard to beat: first, it's such a gaudy number. For instance, since 2002, the most interceptions we've seen a player make in a season was nine (Olathe East's Derahn Williams in 2008). Second, spread offensive systems have made quarterback accuracy levels skyrocket. The teams who pass the most in the league are typically operating out of the shotgun, where quarterbacks have four or five options, and check down routes. When Parks set this record, 10 of the 11 teams in the league were running their offenses from under center, and that meant fewer receivers to throw to, and a greater chance to grab interceptions on defense. For more evidence of the prolific offensive takeover in high school football, look at how sack totals have steadily decreased the past decade.

2. James Franklin, Olathe North
Stat: 2,803 rushing yards in 2009

Franklin averaged 215.6 rushing yards per game in 2009. Good luck surpassing this all-time record against Sunflower League competition. This mark in Franklin's senior year was the record that broke Jim Bouknight's single season rushing record of 2,793 rushing yards in 2002, which had broken Darren Sproles' record of 2,485 rushing yards in 2001. In 62 years of league play, only five different players have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season. And only two -- Bouknight and Franklin -- have surpassed the 2,500-yard mark.

1. Darren Sproles, Olathe North
Stat: 49 touchdowns in 2000

Let me start by saying Sproles accomplished this touchdown feat in only 12 games (see Dyer), and he often times sat out the fourth quarters. Let me add that the next closest total we've seen was 38 touchdowns from Strauss in 2012. Franklin's 2,803 rushing-yard season in 2009 produced just 31 touchdowns by comparison. This will be an extremely challenging record to break, and it will all but necessitate a 13-game season to do so. Maybe a way to put it into perspective: if a player scored three touchdowns a game, every game, for 13 weeks, he would still be ten short of Sproles' record of 49.


Free State Fan said...

Very impressive article. Ya might as well just flip a coin for the "League" champion for now on. With the inevitable changes that finally happened, it really doesn't seem like the SFL anymore. Especially if your FS and a third of your schedule is Manhattan, Topeka and Washburn Rural. Maybe it's a good thing, time will tell. Congrats to Scotty Franz at FS. Great kid on and off the field and he'll land a great deal. Looking forward to the next generation of 'Birds on the field this fall! Go 'Birds!

LVFB said...

We did not platoon at Leavenworth, we tried to, but it only lasted about 1 week. We had at most 3 kids that played only one side of the ball.